Basseterre, St. Kitts, November 29, 2017 (SKNIS): Project Viola, which is presently in its 20th year and is a programme that is meant to give a second chance to teen mothers and at-risk youth so that they can complete their education and be successfully integrated in society, has over the years received high praise locally, regionally and internationally.
“I would say that this programme is what Social Services would call best practice for St. Kitts and Nevis, and UNICEF called it a best practice and documented it regionally and began to air it throughout the region, encouraging other countries to do likewise, especially in the sub-region,” said Ingrid Charles-Gumbs, Former Director of the Department of Gender Affairs, during her appearance on “Working for You” on Wednesday, November 29. “We were the first in the sub-region to have a programme like this and I think probably the third in CARICOM.”
She said that St. Kitts and Nevis was one of the pioneers in the region, with Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica ahead. The former director added that Jamaica helped the federation greatly when an official visited and brought with her a teen mother who is now attending university.
“That was really impressive for us because we saw that through the nurturing of a young female in high school…that girl is now a university student and so we were determined that we would become a part of that action,” she said. “Of course, the advocacy in St. Kitts and Nevis was not easy. We had a lot of opposition. There were people who felt that girls who went to school and got pregnant were women – some as young as first form – and that they should go to work as they had no business in school.”
The former director said that educating teen mothers in school was recognized as a powerful poverty reduction strategy and as such, something had to be done to ensure that they receive a sound education and not be stigmatized.
“After public awareness around this programme in 1997, the Federal Cabinet through a policy decision, decided that teenage mothers had a right to be in school in the mainstream. So, September 1997, any girl in St. Kitts and Nevis who was a teenage mother and wanted to be in school had the right to be in school…with the support of the state through Social Service interactions,” said Charles-Gumbs. “This programme has really served us well. We have served over 200 students during the years that we have functioned and some of them have gone on to do very well. If it is just a case of their earning a living for themselves and being independent, they would have achieved having completed school,” she added.
Project Viola was launched in 2002 to centralize support for teen mothers and assist with their personal and career development. To date, over 150 adolescents have participated in Project Viola, with many former participants going on to successfully complete higher education.
St. Kitts and Nevis is signatory to several conventions that address the rights of women and specifically, the rights of the girl. Some of these include the Beijing Platform Action 1995, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Charles- Gumbs said that based on the above mentioned documents, St. Kitts and Nevis has an obligation to provide education for teen mothers in the mainstream of the school system.